The deterioration of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ health has caught the attention of Israeli security officials and politicians, amid fears that his resignation could spark a war of succession and destabilise current security arrangements in the West Bank.
Amos Harel, a military analyst for Israeli newspaper Haaretz, has said that Israel is preparing for the possibility that “the continued deterioration of Abbas’ health will lead to a struggle for succession within the PA, which would destabilise the relative stability of the West Bank,” Arab 48 reported.
Harel also wrote that with nearly 10 Palestinian politicians and security officials vying for Abbas’ position, should he be unable to continue his role as President, “there could be temporary alliances formed between some of them in an effort to win the leadership of PA”. Harel states that the Israeli establishment is concerned this “internal tension will impact the degree to which the PA security services will work to prevent attacks on the IDF [Israeli army] and Israeli civilians in the West Bank”.
Debate about who will succeed Abbas is rife. It has been reported that senior Fatah official Mahmoud Al-Aloul has been appointed as a temporary stand-in for Abbas should he be unfit to continue his position, although General Majid Faraj, head of the General Intelligence Services, is said to be Abbas’ preferred choice of successor.
Rumours have also circulated that Marwan Barghouti, who is seen as the leader of the two Intifadas and has languished in Israeli prison since 2004, is a popular choice among Palestinians. Likewise, Salam Fayyad, the former PA Prime Minister and Finance Minister, is seen as a reputable choice who could be popular with the West and Israel.
The current upsurge in discussion has been fuelled by the fact that Abbas, who is due to turn 83 at the end of March, was hospitalised while visiting the United States to address the UN General Assembly in New York. He underwent tests in a Baltimore hospital, and is also said to have undergone similar tests in a Ramallah hospital in July 2017. Despite this, in an interview with Palestinian television on 22 February, Abbas said he was in good health and PA spokesmen have attempted to downplay reports of his ill health.
Abbas has faced a busy few months in the wake of Trump’s unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Speaking to the UN Security Council in February, he called for an international conference to be held by mid-2018 to restart the peace process after rejecting US-led initiatives. Abbas has appeared increasingly weak in the face of pressure to do more than verbally condemn the US move and looks unlikely to strengthen his position in the coming months.